Monday, 18 January 2010

ego defence, or: where can I get me a case of special snowflake syndrome?

Via the wonderful Beth Bernobich, I’ve been thinking about Ann Leckie’s idea of the ego defence. She suggests that the writer’s typical defensive reaction to criticism -- what I think of as special snowflake syndrome, the assertion that your work is perfect and the critic is wrong or mean or stupid to say otherwise -- is an ego defence. Interestingly, while I think of special snowflake syndrome as exclusively negative, Ann Leckie calls this ego defence useful:

you don't want to succumb to despair right off the bat. You want to keep plugging away, and getting better [...] and sometimes the only way to do that and keep your sanity is to not have an entirely accurate view of the quality of your work ...

I find this fascinating, because I don’t have an ego defence as I understand it: all I have is the you-suck soundtrack, and it’s playing particularly loudly at the moment. It’s tricky to write anything when some Tuesdays you can’t come up with a single scene worth reading across the entire spectrum of your several novels. Not one. (That stings.)

Special snowflakes are armoured in the conviction that they’re awesome. They don’t have criticism written on the inside of their skull in letters of fire. They can write easily, because everything they write will of course be genius.

Must be nice.

I’d quite like to be a little more of a snowflake. My ego could use defences.


  1. I love Anne's post, which sums up the tricky balance all writers need to aim for. That is, we need to stay open to criticism (so we can improve), but we also need to believe in ourselves. Too much of the "I am so wonderful" attitude, and you get Special Snowflake syndrome. Too much of the "I SUX!" and you never get the courage to soldier forward into the publishing trenches.

    Please believe in yourself.

  2. I love this post Para :D (awesome timing, haha)

    I'm with you on having only the You-Suck soundtrack. And I guess the snowflakes have the ignorance is bliss thing factored into their writing. But I think that even if not having a bit of snowflake syndrome is painful, it's great in that you're aware of needing to improve.

    But I guess a nice balance is the best--enough of snowflake syndrome so that you're not to unconfident but enough humility that you know there's room to improve.

    Personally I'll take the You-Suck. It's discouraging but it's sort of necessary and I'm sure people with it are learning much better and much quicker than someone blinded by Snowflake Syndrome :)

    And yeah, snowflakes can get pretty belligerent if they're told they're anything but a special snowflake. *roll eyes*

  3. Great post. I’m afraid that while I managed to endure only a short bout of SSS, I have since slid into a rather medium deep ditch of “I suck”. Even to move from a ditch to the gutter would be an improvement. On the one hand, I have vastly more time to develop new ideas. On the other, I fear that I may never actually finish with one of them.

    It was certainly nice when I knew everything I wrote would be genius. It’s hard to argue with Snowflakes when your own self-esteem is so low. Shoot, you suck! Who are you to be telling the snowflakes their writing is terrible.

    I’m sorely tempted to ask Mr. Norrell and Mr. Strange out from behind the sky and have them whip me up a confidence spell. Failing that, what do you suppose the chances are of having Ms. Clarke ghostwrite for me? ;)

  4. You want some ego defence? Just post your work on Young Writers Society - One line generic praise is available 7 days a week.

  5. Both the SSS and the You Suck voice have their uses. It's my personal opinion that you don't want to eradicate either one--you want to domesticate it. That You Suck voice can, if you convince it to work for you rather than against you, be a really helpful quality check. Convincing it to do that is, I admit, a tricky endeavor and I have my days where it slips its leash and goes around snarling and tearing up everything I do. One of my best defenses when this happens is to say, "Yeah, sure, it sucks, I suck, and you know what? It doesn't matter, I'm going to write anyway and you can't stop me so there!" And often it will snarl a while and then once it realizes it doesn't actually have any power to stop me writing--which is what it wants--it settles for the next best thing, which is making sure I don't do something really truly silly, since I'm determined to stick my neck out by writing in the first place.

    I found doing NaNo extremely helpful for sheer practice at writing despite the You Suck voice.

  6. That's true, NaNo does help with that, but afterwards the You Suck Soundtrack seems to be blasting even louder for me. Hm.

    I take it with you and Choc, para: the You Suck Soundtrack is necessary to keep our feet on the ground and see things realistically, but sometimes it also tends to inhibit us, because we fail to see the good and occasionally awesome bits in our work - so more of the You Rock Playlist please?

    And yes, ignorance is bliss can be a nice route to fumble your way through life blindly, but at some point it's time to look at things as they are and grow up (and yes some of the extra-Speshul Snowflakes could do with some growth hormones...)

  7. You don't need to be a special snowflake, you just need to not give a shit and keep writing. Like the Nanowrimo syndrome; get this thing written and THEN restructure later. At least the frantic writing will keep the you-suck-soundtrack at bay (for a while).

    Just my two cents, but as someone who usually cannot get arsed to edit anyway, you might want to take it with a grain of salt. :)